Last article, we looked at four breweries in the Madison area, although only one actually was inside the capital city’s limits. That changes this time around, as all four call Madtown home. As it worked out, they also all are set up on the Northwest side, falling within 3 miles of each other. The four featured today are also fairly new, with the oldest being founded in 2006, with the others being 5 years old or younger. With that said, these are some unique spots that have incredible brews and atmospheres!
- Ale Asylum
- One Barrel Brewing Company
- Next Door Brewing Company
- Karben4 Brewing
So this place is just straight up cool. The gigantic production brewery is located near the Dane County Regional Airport, and like an airplane, their growth has ascended rapidly. As the name suggests, you get kind of a ‘spooky’ or ‘hellish’ vibe from the taproom. Even their slogan plays along: ‘Fermented In Sanity’. There are two levels to the taproom, with the main area housing a long bar and a copious amount of seating, with some kind of ‘fiery’ affect in certain places. Upstairs is a smaller bar with more relaxed seating, along with a few windows that look down into the brewery. Oh, and did I mention that there are also two levels of outdoor seating? Ya, this place has plenty of room.
Madtown Nutbrown is one of the staples at Ale Asylum, and with a wonderful bouquet of caramel and chocolate in the smell and taste, it’s easy to see why. My personal favorite was the Unshadowed hefeweizen, which pours nice and hazy, and is soft on the palate. The theme also influences the names of some beers, such as Ambergeddon, Contorter Porter, Demento Session Pale Ale, and Bedlam (a Belgian-style IPA). For hopheads, Hopalicious would be a great choice, as this APA is another flagship, and citrus hop flavor is pushed forward. For those wanting a lighter option, put on your work-out clothes and pick up a 12 oz Curl (yes, that’s the name of their pilsner).
Ale Asylum is not to be missed if you are a beer-lover in the Madison area. They do also serve food, with a vast variety of sandwiches, salads, and appetizers, so feel free to bring along friends and family. A fair warning: if you get the flight, be prepared to stay a while, as it is considerably larger than those at most establishments.
One of the coolest, most unique features I’ve encountered while visiting breweries is that you can ‘toss a dollar’ onto the ceiling at One Barrel. As in the ceiling is covered with dollar bills (thanks of course to some tape). About every 6 months, the money is taken down and donated to a local charity, which is awesome. And if you are willing to toss up a larger bill, you can even get discounts on drinks! The taproom itself is long, with what I would call a ‘backwards J-shaped bar’. Exposed brick walls are behind the bar, as well as opposite to it. There is a neat sitting nook by the front windows, and some other high tables, but most folks were sitting at the bar. The décor is incredibly random, with a bicycle on the wall, several paintings, as well as a mounted jackalope.
Breakfast Beer. No this is not a start to an all-day drinking party (although I guess it could be?), but is the name of the Imperial Coffee Stout brewed here. And wow, it is delicious. When it hits your tongue, the coffee notes hit you just right, and is surprisingly quaffable as well. Since it was a warm day, drinking The Commuter (a Kolsch) was perfect. It was light, even for a Kolsch, and was a beer you could drink all afternoon. Penguin APA ad Darted Rhino Belgian Blonde both played well to their respected styles. Penguin was especially smooth, and had touches of tropical fruit and citrus present.
Overall, some solid offerings from One Barrel, and it has kind of a fun, funky feeling in the taproom. Make sure if you stop in to ‘toss a dollar’, as helping the community will help make your beer taste even better.
Located a short walk from One Barrel, Next Door Brewing has been putting out beer since early 2013. This is certainly not just a place for beer though, as they have an extensive food menu. Don’t get me wrong, the beer does play a part in the menu, such as Beer Pie, which has a crust made with spent grain and graham cracker, along with beer infused custard filling. It’s clear they are pandering to a broader audience as well, with three sections inside. Two are set up with restaurant-style seating; a mix of tables and booths. Then to the right is the actual bar area, with a L-shaped bar and a group of high tables taking up the space. In the bar area, you can look through windows and see some brewing equipment as well.
I may be guilty of indulging myself at Next Door. As you may have read previous, sour ales are my favorite, but unfortunately, they are not overly common (yet). However, Next Door had three on tap when my friend and I stopped by. So naturally they took up 3 of the 4 slots on our flight. My favorite was the Pineapple Mutha Pucker, whose aroma is of intense pineapple, followed by an even more powerful wallop of pineapple on the tongue. Mango Mutha Pucker is similar, just with mango replacing the pineapple. I felt the pineapple played better with the tartness the beer exuded. They also had a Berliner Weiss simply called Experimental Sour #2. The other two beers (I had a bonus taster) I had were less impressive, Darth Porter, and Luminous IPA. Both seemed a little too light, Luminous to the point I would call it a watery finish. One I wish I could have tried is the Bubbler Blonde Ale, as I have heard good things about this refreshing drink.
If you like sours, check out Next Door. The orange walls give the place a bright and energetic feel, and with the broad variety of food and brews, you are sure to find something delicious.
At first, Karben4’s name confused me, as I thought it said Karen, and I was picturing four women named Karen running the place. Alas, this is false, but don’t worry this doesn’t affect the beer! I guess it reflects a sci-fi feel? Karben4 moved into Ale Asylum’s old digs, and made it their own, as it does have a certain geeky/nerdy feel to it, but in a very good way. This is mixed with an industrial layout; concrete floors, higher ceilings, and a grey interior. However, this is broken up by a series of extremely colorful and exuberant canvas art, which I was totally impressed by. The large L-shaped bar greets you as you walk in the door, and to the right is access to their patio.
So there are some awesome names at Karben4 thanks to the sci-fi theme. The most famous of these is Fantasy Factory. This IPA has made a name for itself locally and regional, and one of my buddies claims it is one of his favorite IPAs. The APA goes by the name Dragon Flute, while NightCall is the smoked porter, which had a surprisingly sweeter mouthfeel amongst the chocolate and coffee notes. Some other fun names? Idiot Farm Imperial IPA, and Martian Sunrise Red IPA. However, my personal favorite was the straight up Pale Ale, named Tokyo Sauna. And by straight up, I mean the opposite, as this smooth drinking brew had deliciously sweet flavors, with tropical notes being the most aggressive. It balanced out with just the right amount of bitterness.
This is a cool place to check out, and I highly recommend stopping in, if only for the fascinating names. But the names are more than just a gimmick, as the beer lives up the marketing. Beer geeks should love this place.
With all these breweries within a fairly concise area, it is easy to visit more than one in a day. While we did have extended stays at any, it seemed like all were suited for prolonged visits. I would not be surprised to see the Madison craft beer scene continue to flourish, as my visit clearly showed residents and visitors have boundless options when looking to drink local. I believe each place I visited has something to build on, and hopefully all eight continue to grow successfully.
Let’s hop back over into Minnesota. While we will call this ‘Twin Cities: Part 2”, only one of the breweries will be from Minneapolis or St. Paul. Two will be from a nearby suburb, and one will be from a small (and I mean SMALL) town about an hour and a half Southeast of the cities along the Mississippi.
Current Brewery Count
73 breweries across 34 cities in 7 states. These numbers are current as of June 28th, 2017. For an up-to-date count, follow @brewerytravels on Twitter!